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Finding Friends in Fantasy Worlds

Kat is a writer, program facilitator, and world builder, specializing in emergent narrative and theatrical projects. Their love of writing has been life-long, but their love of DnD has truly flourished in the last 10 years, around the same time their career in Early Childhood Education began. They currently run two Dungeons and Dragons tables at This World’s Ours Centre, one for teenagers, and one for adults.

Fantasy Worlds

Like clockwork, at 5:30pm, every Thursday in the beautiful halls of This World’s Ours Centre, excitement begins to permeate the air. Anticipation, joy, and friendly chatter fill the space as five young men gather to talk about their week, and share their thoughts about the questions and puzzles introduced the week prior. Theories run amok, and it is around this time that I, the facilitator of the program they are about to participate in, step out from my break.

“Alright guys! Let’s get this space set up!”

The excitement doesn’t stop, the chatter picks up, and I am bombarded with the theories the young men had previously been discussing with one another. Questions about whether the creepy man they encountered last session was really a dragon in disguise, or if they would come across a Beholder any time soon. Questions and conversations continue as we set up our table, grab chairs, pull out books and character sheets and finally, sit down and check in with each other. And then, we start the game.

This is how the teen Dungeons and Dragons starts its 2 hour session every Thursday.

Dungeons and Dragons is having a cultural moment, having been made more popularized by hit Netflix shows such as Stranger Things, and live-action Youtube Series like Critical Role and Dimension 20. Interest in this activity has grown exponentially even in just the last 10 years, even though the game has been around since the 70s.

I’ve been passionate about TTRPGs, or Table-Top Role Play Games for approximately 15 years now, having been first introduced to them in my early college days. As an educator, I very quickly recognized the game’s potential for creating a space where creativity could flourish, arithmetic skills could be put into practice, reading, writing and narrative skills could be honed, emotional regulation skills could be practiced and a community could be built around a shared interest.

When the program at TWO first started, we had one regular participant. As the program has grown, this group has expanded to include 5 regular members, who show up weekly to solve puzzles, battle imaginary monsters, and create friendships, and has also expanded to include an adult table on Wednesday nights. I have watched, over the course of the last six months, these five young men flourish, creating strong, caring relationships with one another, learn to support one another in various ways, and build memories.

It would be easy to paint this group as idyllic, however that would do a disservice to the hard work these boys have put into conflict resolution. The group does not exist without conflict, but the culture they have developed with one another is a culture where they hear one another’s thoughts, debate, and come to a democratic consensus. They problem solve together, and when there are differences of opinion, they work together to find a solution that is agreeable to all. Humorously, this includes issues such as when there is one last doughnut hole left on the plate after everyone has had one. A heated debate can sometimes derail a session as we troubleshoot the best way to divide the doughnut hole so that everyone who wants a second snack can have one. However this has also included more difficult times, where a student has felt their voice isn’t being heard, and brings it up with the group. Together the group discussed the issue, and together decided to be more attentive when others are speaking.

While we are ostensibly here to tell epic stories and have awesome adventures together, Dungeons and Dragons is only responsible for getting the boys through the door. During these sessions, these boys work on honing all sorts of skills, from arithmetic (adding that strength modifier to a d20 roll) to character building, to emotional regulation and managing disappointment when a really cool plan doesn’t quite work out the way you expect it to (thanks natural 1!). In sharing this common interest, they have not only found a game they enjoy, but also a group of people they enjoy playing with, and I cannot help but think that this is what the true meaning of Dungeons and Dragons is about; connection, conflict-resolution, and finding friends in the fantasy worlds of our own creation.

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